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Specter Says a 'Lynch Mob' Is After Nominee

GOP senator doesn't say he'll support Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, but his remark tacitly rebukes attacks on her by conservatives.

October 10, 2005|Richard Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, offered an unusual defense Sunday of Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers, saying Miers' critics had put together "one of the toughest lynch mobs" he had ever seen.

"What you've had here on Harriet Miers is not a rush to judgment. It's a stampede to judgment," Specter said on the ABC News program "This Week."

Miers was being attacked by "one of the toughest lynch mobs ever assembled in Washington, D.C., and we really assemble some tough lynch mobs," Specter said.

Specter's remark amounted to a tacit rebuke of conservatives. And it was tinged with irony: Last year, conservatives delayed his ascension to the helm of the Judiciary Committee, which reviews federal judicial nominees before the full Senate votes on confirmation, because they were concerned he might not be sufficiently steadfast in supporting President Bush's future Supreme Court choices. Specter favors abortion rights and has advocated embryonic stem cell research, positions that anger many conservatives.

Bush nominated Miers last week to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The nomination of Miers, Bush's White House counsel and formerly his personal lawyer in Texas, provoked charges of cronyism, as well as concern among religious conservatives that she might be too moderate on social issues such as abortion.

Specter did not say whether he would support Miers, and he expressed concern about her limited experience with issues of constitutional law. As a lawyer in Texas, she mainly focused on business disputes.

Specter said he would question Miers about her qualifications and her views on issues including the role of precedent in the judicial process when the Judiciary Committee he heads takes up the nomination in coming weeks. He said it would be inappropriate to ask Miers whether she would uphold Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that gave women a constitutional right to an abortion.

Miers' supporters continued to paint her as a conservative with an open mind who would approach legal problems on a case-by-case basis.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted "rock solid" support for Miers among Senate Republicans. "I haven't sensed any discontent of any consequence," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, a longtime friend of Miers who has been speaking out on her behalf with the support of the White House, said Miers had long opposed abortion but would set aside her personal views when deciding cases. "Legal issues and personal issues are just two different things," Hecht said on "Fox News Sunday."

Gary L. Bauer, president of the conservative American Values advocacy group and a critic of Miers, countered that conservatives would be disappointed if that were the case. If Hecht "wants to reassure his fellow pro-life conservatives, that's the last argument he should be making," Bauer said.

Other conservatives condemned the selection, saying Bush had missed an opportunity to steer the court firmly to the right. O'Connor has been a swing vote on issues of profound interest to social conservatives.

Commentator Pat Buchanan called Miers' qualifications for the Supreme Court "utterly nonexistent." "She has not only not ruled or written on any of the great controversies of our time on religion or faith, morality. She has shown no interest in them in 40 years," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But on the same program, a Southern Baptist Convention leader, Richard Land, said he trusted Bush. "He picked a person he's known for 15 years, and I believe he picked her because he knows her that well and he knows that she will vote the way he would want her to vote," Land said, adding that "given the right case," he believed Miers would vote to overturn Roe.

Democrats expressed concern about reports that the White House might have obtained assurances from Miers that she would take antiabortion and other conservative positions if she were confirmed, and announced plans to investigate as part of the confirmation process.

A conservative activist, James C. Dobson, head of Focus on the Family and a supporter of Miers after initial misgivings, has said that he had conversations with White House advisor Karl Rove about Miers and that Dobson knows things about Miers "that I probably shouldn't know."

Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), said Dobson should be called as a witness during hearings on Miers' nomination. "I think Karl Rove ought to let the public know what kind of assurances he gave James Dobson. This is not a game of wink and whisper," Schumer said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

The ranking committee Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, said Miers told him she had given no assurances on how she would decide on Roe vs. Wade.

He said that if any such guarantees have been given, they will doom the nomination.

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